I read a Facebook post today from, Jennifer Guttenberg, a grieving mother in my town and realized I have more in common with her than I could have ever imagined. We are both MSD (Marjory Stoneman Douglas) parents; we both have sons who play hockey, our husbands are both passionate and outspoken about what they believe is right and just, our extended families know each other, we both believe in common sense gun laws, but most of all, our daughters were both in the 1200 building on February 14, 2018 in Parkland, Florida.
My heart breaks for her as a mother, and as a parent, especially knowing full well that it could have been me writing that Facebook post below. It could have been our family suffering this devastating loss.
After watching the "simulation" video of the mass murder that took place at Stoneman Douglas High School (that day, a day that was suppose to be about love,) I realized it was only a matter of luck, divine intervention or simply logistics, that our daughter survived the shooting. I am eternally grateful for that and for her safety. Our family is truly blessed, yet I cannot help but feel an immense sadness, not only for all the victims' families but specifically with Jamie Guttenberg's family, especially today, as they endure Friday the 13th without their daughter - not just because it is Friday the 13th, but because it is July 13th, the birth day of Jaime, who should be celebrating her 15th birthday! Like so many of the other families of the Parkland 17, it is another milestone or special occasion they are unable to celebrate with their loved one.
We share a lot in common our two families, living in the Coral Springs/Parkland, Florida area trying to give our kids the very best education and neighborhoods to live in. We share the joy of having been blessed with amazing children, who have the privilege of growing up in one of the "safest cities in America." (The irony of that is painful.) Our daughters both light up a room when they smile, they were both in biology class together, they both have brothers that play hockey, they both had a bat mitzvah, which showed how much they are loved because they are both compassionate, and loving to their friends. Our families were and are unknowingly, intertwined now by the fervent passion to bring about gun safety reform and to make sure this kind of tragedy does not happen again.
It is difficult to write this and have to use the past tense, so I tried not to, but the reality is, she is no longer here and that in itself is heartbreaking. This article is not meant to ignore the fact that there were 16 other amazing people, who also lost their lives, but it is Jaime's loss in particular that has hit me the hardest. All 17 victims were wonderful souls, who lost their lives way before their time, in a tragic way, but it is Jaime that has struck a cord with me and I am not really sure why. My daughter also knew some of the other students who were shot and killed and even shared a Math class with another female victim.
I have only seen Jaime in pictures and videos. She was a beautiful young lady. That bright smile and her enthusiasm for what she loved to do, dance, was evident. It is knowing she was in class with my daughter and that it could have easily been my child. It is the look of Jaime's eyes, that touched my heart because through that look, I could see a happy teenage girl, who loved life. They all did. None of the victims deserved this. No family should ever have to endure this kind of suffering and especially the despair of losing a child, let a lone, while attending school!
I cannot fathom the heartbreak of the Guttenberg family and countless others,who have lost their loved ones to a senseless tragedy. Senseless is redundant when speaking of a tragedy, I know, but it must be reiterated, so that you the reader can try to grasp how unnecessary and preventable this horrific tragedy was. (Most tragedies are, hence the term.) The sorrow of these families, their friends, their classmates, is gut-wrenching. It is unimaginable to have to continuously go back to the scene of a crime, so to speak, as many of these students have to do. There were so many mistakes that day and the days leading up to it. There are an infinite number of things that could have been done differently on the part of staff, administration, government, agencies, police and so many others, yet, we are left with one result - children who were MURDERED AT SCHOOL. Talk about a senseless tragedy! Imagine sending your child to school and they don't come back! That is unfathomable!
We both sent our daughters to school on February 14th, telling them we loved them and assumed we would see them around 3 or 4p.m. that day, like every other school day. However, what transpired after 2:35p.m. on 2/14/18 changed so many lives. We all lost something that day. Some lost children, some lost sons, husbands, fathers, partners, friends, classmates. Some lost their innocence, a part of their childhood. Witnessing a murder and its aftermath, will do that to you.
In the same breath, we also gained new friends that day. We learned who are neighbors were and what their children's names and ages were. We learned what the true meaning of community was and is. We also learned where people stood (and stand) on certain issues. We, the parents, the students, the siblings, the relatives, the friends of students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, were undoubtedly affected, some worse than others, and for that, we must make a promise to bring about change and to never forget, but most importantly, to never again allow this to happen!
It is summer time now. My 15-year old daughter is away for the summer working as a counselor to little kids at the JCC in a different state. Unlike the rest of her classmates and friends in the area, this is her first time being away from home for so long. Yea, a real shocker, but this Cuban-American mother right here, never sent her kids away to summer camp, so this was a big deal for me, for her, for our family. It is a big deal for many reasons. One, it a big deal because she actually was determined to take initiative to get hired by people who had never met her; two, her desire to get away from the area for a while; three, it is a big deal for us because it is literally the first time we do not have our daughter at home and that right there is what makes the difference for me.
It is not only that my daughter is not home. It is that I walk into her room, empty of her presence and don't see her stuff all over the floor and bed. You know, what a typical teenager's room looks like. I walk in and the stillness scares me. It takes me to February 14th and then, my mind pulls back to the here and now and I give thanks, knowing that she will be home soon. Then my mind is jolted to those parents - the parents of the 17 victims and specifically to Jaime's parents. This is when I feel the most empathy and compassion. It is through the stillness and quiet surroundings of our daughter's room, that I imagine what could have happened, as unspeakable as that may be. I have to say it. I have to acknowledge it. It could have happened and it can happen to anyone again, unless we constructively work together to put a stop to it. We must stop the senseless gun violence that is so prevalent in our Country.
At first, all I could do was to imagine the immense void in the lives of these families but now as we approach the 5 month mark of this tragic event, I have immersed myself in a battle for social justice and gun reform safety. I have aligned myself with a group of people, mainly Parkland parents, who have formed a Families Against Assault Rifles Pac. I do not want to take anyone's gun rights away, nor do they. I simply want to advocate for gun reform and common sense gun laws, like universal background checks and banning bump stocks and high capacity magazines and so much more that makes sense. We cannot think it is too late, or that there are too many weapons out there. We must try. We must make an effort to change the way things are right now because it is not working.
The 17 lives that were lost, (actually taken) in Parkland on Feb. 14th and the countless victims of senseless gun violence in schools and around our nation, deserve that we do something in their memory.
So today, in memory of Jaime Guttenberg's birth date, Friday, July 13th, I invite you to do something positive, to get involved, to speak out about gun violence. This is not political per se, it is about safety and common sense. It is about protecting the future of our children and grandchildren. It is about not letting innocent people die in vain.
Interestingly today, in an earlier conversation with my 11-year old son, while I was kvetching about something and just out-right complaining, which now in hindsight, I don't even remember what it was, but the point is that my youngest child is the one who put things in perspective for me when he said, "Well you should know that the purpose of life is to make other people happy and to enjoy your own life." I just looked at him and said, "You are absolutely right. Good point!"
Like my son reminded me, through his statement, we should strive every day to bring joy to others, whether through good deeds, or simple smiles and we should work even harder at enjoying our lives.
It is with that thought, that I ask you to reflect upon the fact that Jaime, who should be celebrating her 15th birthday and the other 16 victims of Parkland, who should be celebrating their own milestones, are not here on Earth anymore to do so.
It is my belief that we are here on Earth to complete our life lessons and to learn from them. Sadly, sometimes, those lessons are cut short and we do not understand why. I also vehemently believe we have an opportunity each and every day, that we wake up, to make our mark in the world and make things right and by right I mean, make the world a better place through our words and actions, especially for those who can no longer do so.